Why follow a dying source?

15 11 2011

Coal is on its way out. That’s for sure. Not only is it a non-renewable resource, meaning that we’re going to eventually run out, the industry isn’t as powerful as it would like you to think. Certain politicians say that coal drives the economy and that regulations ruin industry, but that’s simply untrue.


Coal stockpiles are going down. Jobs in the industry have been steadily decreasing, with or without environmental regulation. Yet people continue to cling to the past, wanting to support coal until the end. I wonder about this. It seems so antithetical to the traditionally American entrepreneurial spirit that champions innovation and new technology. Rather than adapt and evolve to the novel technology available, why are people supporting old, dirty coal?


Why would I have clung to pagers and beepers when cell phones came out? Why use a typewriter when the personal computer is more convenient? Who still watches VHS tapes when DVDs and Blu-Ray are better?


The coal industry isn’t a burgeoning business. It seems doomed to failure, so why do we not do something before we destroy even more land and hurt more people?


Renewable energy is a buzzword!

10 11 2011

Lately, there’s been a TON of talk about renewables. Why? Because they’re becoming a viable alternative, and we’re poised to make some changes. A lot of this has to do with efficiency and cost. Not only is solar power becoming more and more efficient, the price of solar panels is rapidly decreasing. The New York Times had a great article on this, which notes a few key facts. First, Krugman talks about the massive price drop for solar, which is awesome. But secondly, he addresses the fact that coal companies and oil/natural gas companies cost energy users more than they should in costs to the public! Now, it seems that people are using solar more and more.


But what about coal? Well, as the supply of solar panels becomes abundant, stockpiles of coal are going down. Though this may not be permanent, it’s worth noting that we will run out of coal some day. It’s not an infinite resource by any means. And while we use this resource, it seems like disasters keep lurking. Where to put coal ash, tragic accidents that kill miners, and carbon emissions. Now that renewables are gaining steam, why should we look back? It’s worth it to move to a more permanent, stable energy source, rather than wait for an even more catastrophic disaster.


And as we all know, when the price is right, it’s time to buy! We can invest in renewables here on campus. While the university has been making strides in sustainability, it’s not quite there yet. Not as long as we’re firing coal, when biomass is a viable alternative. I’m glad society is making progress and discussing renewables, but we still have awhile to go!

More on coal ash

5 11 2011

Last post, I put up the terrible news of the coal ash spill into Lake Michigan. But that spill will likely disappear from the news pretty soon. That doesn’t mean that the damage from coal ash isn’t lasting — it’s been years since the accident in Kingston, Tennessee, and yet residents are still feeling the burden. Their properties, river, and roads were affected because of a practice that lobbyists downplay as benign.


A lot of people focus on cost as a factor with coal ash. After all, wouldn’t it affect this terrible economy if coal industries had to dispose of their waste properly, adding costs and cutting jobs? Well, dealing with these huge spills costs private industries and government taxpayer money huge sums — $1.2 billion alone was spent on the Kingston incident from the government. This is what people are talking about when they reference the true cost of coal. We spend so much money trying to tie up the loose ends of dirty coal that the market price doesn’t reflect what ordinary citizens put into it. Here are a few interesting articles about the true cost of coal, one an older magazine article and one with a newer, global focus on the devastation of coal production.


As Tech students, we are supposed to have made a commitment to research and development into cutting edge technology — including energy research. As many students will tell you, it’s expensive. But the payout to society is worth the cost. Let’s get VT beyond coal and into the future, so that we don’t have to spend so much time and money on disastrous situations.

A terrible spill

1 11 2011

There’s awful news. A large coal ash bluff collapsed today, pouring coal ash into Lake Michigan. There’s now a 120 yard long debris field, leaving a fuel sheen over the lake. The Great Lakes are considered one of America’s greatest natural treasures, yet our government has allowed this disaster to happen, refusing to allow the EPA to regulate coal ash. How much toxic contamination of our waters are we willing to take? Mercury in fish is already a concern on the national radar — how many times have you been told not to eat too much tuna? Yet the number one reason for mercury poisoning in the waters is coal production. Water is the ingredient most necessary for all known life forms to exist. Why is it that we’re willing to discard important elements of the Clean Water Act and pollute this sacred resource?


Especially when alternatives exist. This article shows the practical promise in solar power, often considered “not feasible” as an energy resource by critics and pro-fossil fuel advocates. The costs of solar are decreasing, making it more and more viable as a common energy source. Let’s get behind renewable energy now — before more damage can be done!

Activism works

29 10 2011

Beyond Coal has been incredibly visible on campus lately, and it’s awesome! Besides the great weekend at VA Powershift, there was a rally for Hokie health sponsored by Greenpeace, with CT coverage. And we’re getting a ton of publicity out for the Flash Rave, another awesome campaign. But why do all this? I’ve heard before from critics that activism doesn’t actually change anything, just gathers a lot of racket. I’ve also heard charges that attempting to create change at VT isn’t enough, since so much of our country’s energy relies on coal. Why focus on campus when the impact may not be felt to the coal industry?


Well, I don’t believe that’s true. Activism from individuals and grassroots organizations have historically made a huge impact, and Beyond Coal is getting noticed. Nationally, the head of the EPA has given her support for our campaigns. And one campus may not make a huge impact on our nation’s coal use, but 16 campuses have already committed to Beyond Coal’s goals. In this day and age, higher ed is a giant part of our economy. Imagine the massive difference it would make to our nation’s energy priorities if every college and university switched to clean energy.


But even if it made no impact at all on coal use, committing to clean energy at Virginia Tech is an issue of living out my own ethical principles. I know that energy generation is absolutely necessary for both my education and for my future career, but I absolutely know that I don’t want to succeed by oppressing other communities. I love Appalachia. I love the culture, the mountains, the people. Coming to school here has been a blessing, because I’ve discovered traditions and a way of life that can be breathtakingly beautiful. I don’t want to poison someone else’s home because it’s convenient for me. It’s easy to ignore a difficult problem — and our nation’s energy issues are obviously very convoluted problems — but it certainly isn’t honorable. If Virginia Tech alone chose to Invent the Future by making their greatest efforts towards clean energy, the Hokie Nation could be assured that they would not be contributing to disasters like this one, which occurred from the tragic consequences of surface mining.


Someone who inspires me as an activist is Elie Wiesel, whose writing has touched millions worldwide. He said that, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Trying to change our communities is not futile. Another thing he said was, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Right now, it seems like coal is king. But that will never change unless we speak our against it.

Coal sweeps into communities

23 10 2011

I’d like to direct people to John Locke, whose philosophy shaped our nation at large. He wrote that one’s natural rights come down to “life, liberty and property,” a phrase often associated with the Revolutionary era. While early leaders replaced property with the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, I think America has a strong belief in inherent property rights — that your home is your own. While this concept has had flaws, it does seem to endure as an American value.


So why does the production of coal want to infringe upon the rights of communities? Issues like this coal storage heap seem to come up again and again. Why should individuals have to cede the purity of the land that they’ve purchased and developed and loved? Why should local institutions, like schools, have to suffer drastic consequences to continue mining?


Some juicy quotes from pro-coal advocates in the articles above note that: “We’re government when it suits us. Sometimes, we find the government entirely unsuitable.” As well as, “Your representatives in Washington understand that we need mountains of coal to generate power with no restraints on its waste disposal.” Those come from Kilmore Trout of the Tennessee Valley Authority, failing to respond to the cries of upset citizens.


I wonder how John Locke would have felt, sitting in on that meeting.

Great news for clean power in VA!

20 10 2011

This is really exciting. Dominion Power has created an agreement with Enviva, a wood pellet company, to fuel two Virginia plants with BIOMASS! That’s exactly what we want to do here at VT! The wood that Enviva uses is essentially recycled — they use waste from other wood manufacturing. And these plants will be converted by 2013, a great date. This is great news for sustainable energy, Dominion Power, and all involved.